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April 1, 2013 · OPINION

County and school budgets should remain flat in 2014

By John Green
Right now the county supervisors and school board are working hard to finalize their budgets. They are important documents. Have you taken the time to look them over and make some comments? I hope so, because you’re paying for them.

A big problem is the lack of input from the public. We elect them and send them off, and then we complain about what they did. The term representative says it all: They represent you and me. Let them know what you think, because if you don’t there are plenty of special interests that will if you don’t.

Our county budget has problems; it lacks a balanced tax base on which to base the budget. Most of our revenue comes from residential and farm parcels; we are short on business and industry. Here is an example of how business can help: A couple of years ago a “big box” store (Costco) wanted to open in New Baltimore. Nobody wanted it. That one store could have generated $1 million in revenue for the county. That’s sizeable, considering total property taxes are $85 million in the new budget.

A good part of the problem is the general feeling against development. This attitude makes it difficult to do anything new in the county. I certainly don’t want to end up looking like Fairfax or Arlington counties, but I also understand it takes lots of money to fund the services we want.

Another factor impacting our property tax system is land conservation easements. This includes Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Nature Conservancy open space easements and the purchase of development rights. All these programs lower property taxes for those who can participate. It’s estimated to have reduced property taxes by $18 million for those property owners. That’s 20 percent of all potential Fauquier real estate tax revenue. Who makes up the revenue loss? Everyone who doesn’t have a land in the use valuation program.

In the case of PDRs, the money to pay for development rights comes mostly from the county tax revenue. Money is spent on PDRs every year. The taxes are reduced on that land. This is cumulative, and when you consider the impact over years, land conservation easement programs become significant. Taxes are low on farmland (as they should be), and this leaves us with the residential homeowner to carry the load.

All of these conservation easements require large properties, not the relatively small parcels that most build their houses on. This means a relatively small number of people are able to take advantage of the tax savings. We are creating an imbalance, where the homeowner is carrying an ever greater portion of county taxes. If we want to keep our open spaces and lifestyle, we need to find a better way to pay for it.

As to the school budget: The desire to build a needlessly expensive new classroom building as part of the much needed Fauquier High renovation has upset the normal school funding process. In order to get the fancy building, the existing budgets had to be stripped of $8.8 million to meet the FHS Renovation Agreement. Last year, parents were upset by cuts in teachers, education programs, sports and other programs. The renovation is part of the reason. The majority of the renovation money went into the new building, leaving much to be done to the rest of FHS in coming years. All this will have to come out of future budgets.

Teacher compensation is in the budget again. I say compensation because that reflects total cost of a teacher. Teachers have done well over the years. Most of us would be happy with their compensation increases. Here are the pay increases:

• Fiscal 2001, 7.7 percent.

• 2002, 6 percent.

• 2003, 4.5 percent.

• 2004, 4 percent.

• 2005, 5.8 percent.

• 2006, $3,000 increase per step.

• 2007, $3,000 increase per step.

• 2008, $1,500 increase per step.

• 2009, $1,500 increase per step.

• 2010, no change.

• 2011, bonus of$1,500 or 3 percent of salary.

• 2012, no change.

• 2013, 5 percent to cover a 5-percent contribution to their retirement and a 2-percent raise.

The proposed fiscal 2014 budget includes another 2-percent raise.

Last year, teachers were required to pay 16 percent of the increase in their medical benefits. This year medical benefits are estimated to increase by 18 to 20 percent. I’ve not heard how much, if any, teachers will have to pay of the increase. All too often we look at salary only. We must look at pay, benefits and retirement in determining fair compensation.

A new teacher right out of college with a bachelor’s degree = starts at $42,000 salary and a guaranteed pension, and they pay a portion of their medical insurance. People are not going to get rich teaching. Hopefully that’s not the reason they chose the profession, but they are adequately compensated. Over the past 10 to 15 years, teachers have done better than most. I don’t believe another pay raise is in order in this year’s budget.

A troubling trend in our public schools is the increased involvement by the federal government. The anti-bullying program was not mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, but talk of federal lawsuits for possible civil rights violations made compliance 100 percent. What our kids eat for lunch is now dictated by the federal government. They get compliance by offering money to defray the cost. And now the feds are seeking national standards; they offer money if you comply. Beware, Big Brother is alive and well.

The economy is slowly improving. However, most of us have seen sharp increases in food, fuel and insurance costs – especially medical and, of course, taxes are up and projected to go up even more. We are not out of the woods yet. I believe both the county and school budgets should remain flat.

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John Green · April 6, 2013 at 10:29 am
Fauquier County is blessed to have such a fine group of teachers but their compensation must fit the economic conditions of our area. Most people have seen a decline in purchasing power over the last 10 years. Teachers have seen less of a decline. Their pay, benefits and retirement are solid. Many people would love to have such a compensation package but instead they are asked to pay more in taxes. We need to maintain a balance between public and private employement. John Green
Concerned Citizen · April 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm
Mr. Green, you have for the last year wrote often about how the teachers in Fauquier have received regular wages and how they are paid nicely. You link what you state is proof of these increases also.

The problem is that I have spoken with many teachers here in Fauquier that have not seen these raises in their paychecks. They would have loved to have seen the numbers that you keeping writing that they received!

People forget that teachers work many hours outside of their classrooms. When a teacher wants to do a special project, guess who pays for the supplies? The teacher does! There is no money in the school budget for supplies and there has not been for the last two years, so teachers share with each other and make do! A concept that many would do well to copy!

Why is it that the people we entrust our children with for almost 8 hours a day are always the ones that are picked on when push comes to shove? Teachers know that they will not become rich by being a teacher, but should the teacher's of our children need to work a second job to make ends meet?

I know nothing I write will change your mind, it has been made up for too long, but someone needs to stand up for the teachers of Fauquier County before they go to other counties!
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